When I woke up this morning, at breakfast, I showed the family I am staying with the photos I took of them. No one was happy with them! I guess, in this country, staged photos are a lot more common than the candid photos I usually take. The matron of the house wasn’t happy with what she was wearing in the photos, so, when she saw the photos, she said she would dress up nicely for another. After breakfast, she appeared in a marvelous bluish sari, arranged perfectly, and stood demurely at the entrance to her home for a new set of photos, that she was happy with. Whilst I like candid photos a lot (I think they reveal more about the soul of the subject) this photo did, indeed turn out nice!
But this was Monday, and there were tasks to be done and meetings to be had, so off I went (at 7:00 in the morning), starting a long, long day. First thing, off to the Etisalat office to get my internet fixed. After trying to explain that tethering wasn’t working to half a dozen people, the put me on to the boss, who had an iPhone herself. With three letters, “ebb” placed in the APN slot in carrier settings/cellular data, it was all fixed. It was before 8:30, and I had one of my to do’s done! It looked like the start of a roll.
But then, India’s outsourced visa service – the VFS. As anyone who has applied for an Indian visa knows, this place can be a horrible bureaucratic mess (am I right, Douglas?). Two hours of queuing later and I was just as no-where as when I started – I needed new passport photos (they use their own, square format, different from everywhere else in the world) and I had confused the secretary in charge with my passports so much that I think his head was about to explode. Lucky I only showed him two, the third will be our little secret.
The one positive thing about the visa experience was that I met an awesome English fellow, who’s name was literally Mr. McGee. He had told me that he had just been to Trincomalee, so I was intrigued. He then told me he had bike-rode there, I was even more intrigued. He then told me that he had bike-rode there from England, via Egypt, Iran, Kazakhstan and all these other amazingly exciting countries. I was smitten, I had a man-crush (sorry Ian). An epic bike-ride is now definitely on my bucket list, and I hope to do it soon! Mr. McGee, you are an inspiration.
But then I also met a Ukrainian girl at the embassy. I asked her about her experiences in Sri Lanka, and she was the first person I have asked that didn’t respond positively. I think it may have been because many of the travelers I have met have been guys, but none of them seemed to have reported the harassment that she seems to have been victim to. I really feel bad for her, I think it would definitely be hard to be a blonde girl traveling alone in this country.
So, all of this and I am still in line, it is finally my go: “number 153”, the bureaucrat at the front calls. Excitedly, I step forward. Five minutes later, dejectedly, I step back. Apparently I need two copies of every single form because I have two passports. Meh.
Tomorrow, I will have to be back at the embassy. Yay.
But the day was to get better! Today is Monday, and, thus, the first day where all of my old colleagues were in the office, Ms. Navomahona (the boss of the Colombo head office) too! So there was a lot of work to be done: the translating from Tamil to English (not by me, by Ms. Nav!) of a report from the Mannar field office on the progress of Palmera Projects funded activities there; the organization of a new weekly communication system to keep us up to date on this crucial part of the project; the organization of my travel to Mannar, my accommodation and my meetings there (with the technical officers, government agencies and beneficiaries).
And, I had to re-do all of my Indian visa applications. So the day was winding down, the night was creeping up on me and there were still mountains of things to do. But, the day was done, and there was tomorrow to work too, so off home, back to Kotehena, a relaxing place where there is nothing that needs to be done but writing, listening to Bollywood music, editing photos, reading books and eating delicious delicious dinner (fish curry, coconut chilli sambal and a rice-flour baked bread thingy).
When I get there, the family is already at the dinner table, and there is an area cleared for me, I feel at home. The food is delicious and the conversation riveting (the disabled girl who lives here has started to warm to me, calling me “anna” – big brother; I guess that means that she would be my “tangatchi”). What an amazing way to end a day. It will be sad to leave this family tomorrow evening (heading off to Mannar at 10:00pm on the night bus), but at least I know I am coming back at the end of the month!
Tomorrow’s a busy day!
[Random Sri Lankan travel tip] To estimate the proper Trishaw fare, multiply the amount of kilometers you are traveling (<3 my iPhone) by 30 and plus 50 at the end, this is how much you should pay, any more and you are getting the foreigner price.